Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: Day Three, “Walking Towards Freedom”

Jan 20th, 2013 | By | Category: Blog Posts

On Day 3 of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we continue our reflections on the daily themes and Scripture readings offered by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

As we walk towards freedom in the Lord, we ask Him, “What do you require of us today?” (Cf. Micah 6:6-8.) For we know that only in a state of submission to His will can we experience the freedom which He has promised.


The Boston Freedom Trail

The Hebrew midwives understood this intuitively. (Exodus 1:15-22.) From the wellspring of fearing the Lord, they were inspired to do God’s will by protecting the innocent infant boys whom were of His people. These infants were in need of the Lord’s protection and intervention. The Lord made this intervention by way of humble midwives. He saw fit to use them, whom had submitted their own wills to His.

What does the Lord require of us in pursuit of Christian unity? It is easy to ask, and it is easier still to presume we are doing okay. But we know deep inside, when we take a quiet moment to reflect, that we are not doing okay. We are not pursuing truth with our brothers and sisters in love. We do not care much about Christian unity, or we despair that unity is not possible. We let something remain a hindrance to the Lord’s will: a harsh and impatient tongue, an appetite to score points on our interlocutors, or a lack of charity and respect. Perhaps we simply find ourselves too busy to spend the hours it takes to seek the truth with another.

But there is a way to do for Christian unity what the Lord requires of us. And the Hebrew midwives have shown us the way. We begin to submit our own will — sinful, stubborn, prideful as it is — to God’s perfect will by fearing Him. We remember that for each of our actions and for each word we use (especially in public fora!) we shall be judged. (2 Corinthians 5:10.) This fear of the Lord motivates us to desire the right end, namely, that the Lord’s will be done on earth.

But fear of the Lord, in isolation, is still certainly not enough. To submit our wills to God’s, we remain entirely dependent upon the Spirit of the Lord. With His Spirit, we can attain that freedom allowed by a will aligned with God’s. (2 Corinthians 3:17.)

The woman at the well, that sinful Samaritan who was so much more like ourselves than we would care to realize, asked our Lord for the Spirit. Impulsively like St. Peter, she said, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” (Cf. John 4:4-26.) In these words we can sense the depth of her longing for freedom, freedom from the shackles of a rampant, untempered will. With the “Spirit and truth” we can walk towards freedom, and not just for ourselves but for our separated brethren as well.

Lord, help us to fear Your judgments, and to conform our wills unto Your own. Pour forth Your Spirit that we may be sustained on the journey towards freedom. May it be done unto us according to Your will! (Cf. Luke 1:38.) Amen.

BIBLICAL REFLECTIONS AND PRAYERS
 FOR THE ‘EIGHT DAYS’

Day 3 Walking towards freedom
Readings
Exodus 1: 15-22 The Hebrew midwives obey God’s law over the command of Pharaoh
Psalm 17: 1-6 The confident prayer of one open to God’s gaze
2 Cor. 3: 17-18 The glorious freedom of God’s children in Christ
John 4: 4-26 Conversation with Jesus leads the Samaritan woman nto freer living

Commentary

Walking humbly with the Lord is always a walk into receiving the freedom he opens up before all people. With this in mind we celebrate. We celebrate the mystery of the struggle for freedom, which takes place even in the places where oppression, prejudice and poverty seem to be impossible burdens. The resolute refusal to accept inhuman commands and conditions – like those given by Pharaoh to the midwives of the enslaved Hebrew people – can seem like small actions; but these are often the kinds of actions towards freedom going on in local communities everywhere. Such determined journeying towards fuller living presents a gift of Gospel hope to all people, caught up, in our different ways, within the patterns of inequality across the globe.

The step by step journey into freedom from unjust discrimination and practices of prejudice is brought home to us by the story of Jesus’ meeting at the well with the woman of Samaria. Here is a woman who seeks, first of all, to question the prejudices which confront her, as well as to seek ways of alleviating the practical burdens of her life. These concerns are the starting place for her conversation with Jesus. Jesus himself engages in conversation with her on the bases both of his need for her practical help (he is thirsty) and in a mutual exploration of the social prejudices which make this help seem problematic. Bit by bit the way of a freer life is opened up before the woman, as the reality of the complexities of her life are seen more clearly in the light of Jesus’ words. In the end these personal insights return the conversation to a place where what divides these two groups of people – where they should worship – is transcended. “Worship in spirit and in truth” is what is required; and here we learn to be free from all that holds us back from life together, life in its fullness.

To be called into greater freedom in Christ, is a calling to deeper communion. Those things which separate us – both as Christians searching for unity, and as people kept apart by unjust traditions and inequalities – keep us captives, and hidden from one another. Our freedom in Christ is, rather, characterised by that new life in the Spirit, which enables us, together, to stand before the glories of God “with unveiled faces”. It is in this glorious light that we learn to see each other more truly, as we grow in Christ’s likeness towards the fullness of Christian unity.

Prayer

Liberating God, we thank you for the resilience and hopeful faith of those who struggle for dignity and fullness of life. We know that you raise up those who are cast down, and free those who are bound. Your Son Jesus walks with us to show us the path to authentic freedom. May we appreciate what has been given to us, and be strengthened to overcome all within us that enslaves. Send us your Spirit so that the truth shall set us free, so that with voices united we can proclaim your love to the world. God of life, lead us to justice and peace. Amen.

Questions

  • Are there times, even in our own Christian communities, when the prejudices and judgments of the world, – with regard to caste, age, gender, race, educational background – stop us seeing each other clearly in the light of God’s glory?
  • What small, practical steps can we take, as Christians together, towards the freedom of the Children of God (Romans 8.21) for our churches, and for wider society?

(Source)

Tags:

9 comments
Leave a comment »

  1. Tom,

    What a humble bit of writing. This is timely for me, as I have been involved in some debating on my own Facebook wall, and I can’t say I have been so very hopeful that unity will happen. I’ve argued and debated and provided “proof” through articles and links and still not so much as a breeze seems to touch those who I give my time and prayers to. Of course, this is very very early on as I just recently entered the church, but I am a terribly impatient person who wants to see many in my circle come into the fulness of Christianity, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that there is a part of me that wants to see a big name theologian convert as vindication to what I’ve suffered. I’m pretty sure this isn’t where The Spirit would have me be. I need prayer.
    Before getting out of bed this morning I was recollecting the different ideas that I had struggled with in Protestantism and just sorta basking in the comfort that there was in fact a church, a faith, that was answering all my questions and I a swift thought entered my head. I would post on FB that I wished everyone could know the greatness of what I’ve discovered in The Catholic Church! I was sure to receive”likes” from all my Catholic friends. Yay, more affirmation to sooth some of the lonliness and rejection that I have been feeling and receiving. God knows I am tired and that I miss the friendship that I had and lost like so many others feel, I’m sure. But any Protestant friends that I had remaining wouldn’t be coaxed to approve of my newfound love affair. I’m glad I didn’t post that comment.:)
    I have paid lip service to “charity”, reminding others that we should act thus in our online discussions but next moment I inevitably say something snarky to defend myself. Sometimes I even huddle within my Catholic circles to speak about “so-and-so the dim-wit”, or about “so-and-so the uncharitable person.”…
    God help me, sometimes I think I care more about winning an argument then seeing Christian unity.

    Susan

  2. Dear Susan,

    Thank you for leaving the comment. I pray that the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity — and the pursuit of Christian unity itself — would receive increasing attention in the future.

    When I became Catholic, I had developed a fancy that my closest friends and relatives would have their ‘eyes opened’ to the truth I saw. It was humbling when this did not immediately occur.

    My tendency might be to push-push-push at my loved ones, but then to quickly give up on the possibility of their coming to agree with me. Neither of those actions help them (or me) walk towards freedom. We must constantly be committed to living out our own faith as well as we are able. Fear the Lord. Pray to receive the Holy Spirit. Seek God’s will first. I think these are concrete steps that any Christian can take, and that will tend to improve Christian unity.

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  3. Susan (re:#1), and anyone else who is reading,

    My sister in Christ, your humility and honesty about your weaknesses are an inspiration to me. I should have more of both about my own, very similar, weaknesses! Please pray for me to that end– and I thank you in advance!

    As you know, I have been where you are (the only differences being that I am a Catholic convert *and* revert, and I am not yet married). By the time that I returned to the Church in 2010, I had actually been a conscious, committed Protestant much longer than I had *ever* been a Catholic (in my initial conversion to the Church back in the mid-90s). Almost my *entire circle* of friends and acquaintances was Protestant– largely, of the five-point Calvinist variety. Upon my reversion to Catholicism, I was rebuked and called to repentance by many friends, while many others simply went silent. Some of them eventually dropped out of my life entirely, no longer calling me or visiting me. Others “unfriended” me on Facebook without a word. Still others remain my “friends” on Facebook, but I haven’t actually heard anything from them in years. This whole process has been deeply painful for me, as I know the same process has been, and still is, painful for you.

    Over the last two and a half years, I have tried to reach out, en masse (no pun intended!), to my old Protestant friends on Facebook, by posting things about Christ and/or the Church, in an attempt to show them that Catholics *do* trust in Christ alone and *do* care about understanding and obeying the teaching of the Bible. None of my Protestant Calvinist friends has become Catholic (yet), but my “Catholic” posting has led a few of them to contact me privately, thank me for helping to correct some of their misconceptions about Catholicism. For the most part though, I have received either rebukes, or, mostly, stone silence. I actually appreciate the rebukes, because, one, they show that some of my old friends still actively, truly care about my eternal soul, and, two, rebukes can sometimes lead to good discussions! :-) The “reaction” of ongoing silence from old friends on Facebook (and through the phone lines…) is more difficult for me, but I simply must offer the pain of that silence up to God.
    Honestly, I often still don’t do well with offering it up– again, please pray for me.

    One bit of hard-won learning that I can offer from my attempts at informing my old Protestant friends about Catholicism– when you can have interactions with them, whether through FB, or on the phone, or in person, I encourage you to do what you can to not have *all* of your discussions be about the Catholic Church. They may insist on talking about it, and they may not walk to talk about it at all. For your part, I would encourage discernment and prayer about when, how, and to what degree of frequency you write/post about Catholicism with your old Protestant friends. Please, please understand– I am *not* saying, nor *would* I say, that you should not talk with Protestants about the Church!! I am simply saying to pray for discernment about when and how you do it.

    Here is an example from my fairly-recent past. For about the first year and a half after I returned to the Church, I was passionately “on fire” to correct Reformed misunderstandings about Catholics and the teachings of the Church. I posted *constantly* on FB about what I had been taught, as a “Reformed Baptist,” about the Catholic Church, how that information was incorrect, and that, now, I was going to provide, from Catholic sources (including the Bible itself) the accurate information. This was all well and good, and I certainly had good intentions of correcting misinformation. However, I fear that the sheer constancy of my posting on the same themes may have (even further) alienated more people than it actually helped. One Reformed Presbyterian friend, who is actually quite “Catholic-friendly” himself, confronted me in person on the sheer frequency and strident nature of my “Catholic/Protestant” FB posts. It was a very painful conversation for me and for him. I was initially hurt, angry, and defensive. After all, from what I knew of myself, my intentions had been good. I wanted to correct anti-Catholic misinformation and provide the truth of Catholic teaching for Protestants and others to consider.

    However, that painful conversation with my friend led to some deep, deep soul-searching on my part. He was right that in my fervency, as a Catholic “revert,” I had allowed my Facebook page to become a portrait of constant banging on the same Catholic/Protestant themes– and it was striking some people in a way that was not at all attractive or appealing. This constant, strident posting of mine was also perpetuating some overly harsh anti-Protestant attitudes and ways of speaking in some of my Catholic friends– things that even I did *not* share with them, as a Catholic (such as speaking of Protestants as not caring about Christ and the Bible at all)! I had to rethink some things. I didn’t need to rethink my return to the Church, but I did need to rethink *how* I was *sometimes writing about* my rediscovered Catholic faith. Quite contrary to my wishes, my way of presentation seemed actually doing some damage to the cause of Christian unity!

    The eventual answer to which I, personally, was led (I believe, by the Holy Spirit) was *not* that I should stop writing about Catholicism and Protestantism. I just needed to be more careful about my tone, and I needed to write more about other things on FB as well, to provide a more balanced picture of my actual, everyday life. After all, I don’t spend 24 hours of the day thinking about about some Reformed leaders and laypeople misunderstand and misrepresent Catholicism. Why, therefore, should most or all of my writing on FB be about that subject? I have a full life, thanks be to God! To be sure, Christ and the Catholic faith are the *center* and the *heart* of that life, and they inform (at least, they should inform!) all that I think, say, and do. However, within that understanding, I enjoy many things that are not *directly* related to the issues which separate Catholics and Protestants. I love literature, art, all genres of music, foreign and independent films… I have many different interests! My Catholic faith informs these interests, certainly, but when I listen to the great jazzman, Miles Davis, or I watch a film by the Swedish director, Ingmar Bergman, I am probably not thinking about Catholic/Protestant differences on justification! :-)

    Therefore, partially due to the aforementioned conversation with my Presbyterian friend, and partially due to, I believe, the leading of the Holy Spirit, I decided to simply go to Facebook with less of a conscious “agenda” to constantly defend the Catholic Church against Reformed objections/misinformation. Moreover, as my friend mentioned to me, many Reformed people, at the local level, aren’t always strongly anti-Catholic (apart from the popular Reformed theologians and internet apologists!) , in the sense of bashing or strongly criticizing the Church and her teachings. A lot of Reformed people are just living their lives, going to church, and trying to obey God to the best of their understanding(s). As Catholics, we do believe that they have certain misunderstandings of, and about, Scripture and the Catholic Church, but actively spreading anti-Catholic thinking isn’t an abiding concern for them.

    To the extent that such “moderate,” not-so-anti-Catholic, Reformed people have these misunderstandings of Catholcism, we can pray for them and seek to find ways to engage them, but we should always be careful to affirm that we are brethren in Christ with them, even as they are separated from us, and vice versa, in some serious ways. (I know that I’m preaching to the choir with you here, Susan!)

    Now, for many of my old “Reformed Baptist” and “non-denominational, Reformed-leaning” friends, they tend to be more openly, pronouncedly anti-Catholic (of the James White and Mark Dever school of thinking… i.e. “The Catholic Church is a false church, teaching a false gospel”…). Even with them though, I still love them and accept them as my separated brethren in Christ, even though they cannot, according to their convictions, reciprocate. Moreover, they, too, need to know that I am not *constantly* sitting around, obsessed with thinking about how their Protestant leaders misunderstand and misrepresent some of the teachings of Christ, the Bible, and the Catholic Church.

    Those misunderstandings and (unintentional, well-meaning) Calvinist misrepresentations of Catholicism do grieve my heart, but I cannot allow them to become the *focal point* of my existence. If they do, then they have, in fact, momentarily, become more important to me than Christ Himself– Whom I love more than life itself, and for Whom I sacrificed so much to return to His Church!

    In conclusion to these ramblings, from which I hope *someone* may profit, hehe, I still think, write, and talk about Catholic/Protestant differences (real and imagined), on Facebook, and in everyday, physical life in the world. I also try to think, write, and talk at least as much about, though, about how much Catholics share *in common* with serious, committed Protestants– there is so, so much we have in common… above all, Our Lord Himself and our faith in Him and His death and resurrection! Some of the most fervent Protestants don’t *think* that Catholics have much in common with them, but we do! As for the differences, they are seriously important… but my Catholic freedom in Christ also means that I can write about those differences *and* my love of Miles Davis *and* a great film that I just saw! “Mixing it up,” I have come to discover, in my writing on FB, can also also be part of Catholic evangelization! :-) Lord, bring all who love and trust in You alone, for salvation, to unity in Your Church…!

  4. Christopher,

    Yup, you offer some very good advice:) A steady stream of things Catholic, especially this close to the time that I left Reformed theology for the Catholicism, is probably what caused me to lose some FB friendships. All the people who defriended me though are people from the Reformed church that I attended for ten years…..the same one my family still attends. These people know me pretty well. This is particulary irksome for me. My family see these folks every Sunday, and are caught in the middle( they know I was defriended). To help make it not feel so personal they offer excuses…..”Mom they probably just couldn’t handle all your Catholic posts.” Ok. fine. But we all know that you can adjust personal settings. I mean, they knew that what they were doing would hurt me. I’m dealing with the offence that they know the man I’m wedded to, the children I bore and who love me, yet they shun the woman behind it. It is if I’m dead. <> I’m raw.

    In the meantime, I miss the people I knew. I love them and it hurts me to know that I love them more than they love me. Even in the middle of my compelled investigations( there comes a point where you get to close the Catholicism and it’s like a magnet), I tried to keep it light and humorous. I yielded to my pastors as much as I could, and I was never intentionally mean. Hey, the worst thing I said in response to some terribly mean things was that my pastor and John Bugay should go bowling. I shouldn’t have said that, but I was talking to my pastor, my friend, who knew me well enough to know that I was still trying to keep things real between us. I knew he hated Catholicism and I wanted him to know I was still, me:/

    I begged my pastors to help me keep peace in my home. I linked them to the eccumenical dialogue between Cardinal George Archbishop of Chicago and John Armstrong asking them to pay special attention to the end of the conversation where the two speak to the situation of a family divided between Catholicism and Protestantism( that link no longer works btw). I wanted to give them a head-up that I was definately going to go through with it. It fell on deaf ears. I was around some of the most anti-Catholic people there are, and things heated up like you wouldn’t believe. Only since I was officially received have things gotten better.

    These people know I have a life. They know the children that I homeschool. We’ve gone camping, hiking together…! To think that I started my investigations into Catholicism in a round about way because I was trying to stay on top of my daughter’s college philosophy studies. I got just a smidgeon of Kant but enough for me to intuit the implications of his ideas. This sent me on my ” selfish quest”, as they called it. I was told that I was neglecting my family. I was trying to regain my faith! Nobody was buying it. They thought I was exagerating my epistemic uncertainty and was adopting Catholicism for its aesthetic value. No way could it be true.

    So Christopher, I will try to offer it up to Jesus. I am happy to have found the fulness of truth. The costs are high, but I knew that I couldn’t turn my back on truth. That would be to believe a lie. Prayerfully, and with God’s grace many more that we know will find their way. Everyday I think about the path that I’ve walked to get here and it is worth every bit of pain. I was encouraged by the comments of other converts that this would be the case, and it is:)
    Right now though I am still drawing comparisons between the different theological systems and basking in the beauty, but I will try to keep that to myself more, and then being a little more eccumenical when I do decide to “share” something. I still think the medium of FB is useful for Catholic Protestant dialogue….as I know you do too. Speaking of…..”The Seventh Seal” is it Protestant or Catholic? heehee!

    ~Susan

  5. Hi Susan, a friend of mine directed me to the fact that you were commenting on this thread, and I wanted to direct you to my own blog — Logos and Muse — in which I offered a response to some comments you had made on the “Visible Church” thread. I don’t know if you had had a chance to see it, but it’s on my blog under the title “To Susan.” Welcome home to the Church.

  6. Susan (re:#4),

    I hear the pain in your reply, sister… I understand that the pain is raw… Please be assured of my prayers for you.

    I’ve been back in the Catholic Church for over two years now, and sometimes, I still keenly feel the pain of lost friendships with in my old Reformed communities, as if those friendships had been lost only yesterday. Sometimes, just in the course of my day, I will remember a painful comment from an old Protestant friend, and I will have to remind myself of “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”….

    It does become easier with time though. The sacrifices you have made are very real, including the loss of cherished friendships against your wishes. The pain that you feel is a testament to the reality of your love for these separated brothers and sisters. Jesus and the Blessed Mother are with you in your suffering. It won’t always hurt as badly as it does now, but for now, please know that you are not alone in what you’re enduring.

    I wasn’t meaning to imply that your old friends think you don’t have a life, now that you are Catholic! :-) Not at all! Similarly, many of my FB friends from my former Protestant communities (including those who haven’t unfriended me but who still won’t have much to do with me) know that I have a life. I just think that the *tone* and *sheer frequency* of my postings, say, a year ago, on Reformed Protestantism and Catholicism probably came off to them as, “This guy is obsessed! He’s so hung on proving Catholicism to us and denigrating our theology!” I didn’t mean to be disrespectful to them at all, but the tone and frequency may well have seemed disrespectful. Actually, it’s hard to know how it seemed to many of them, because, simply, many of them weren’t interacting with me at all and still aren’t doing so. I am going on a few conversations with Reformed friends, my intuition, and, I think, *some* leading of the Holy Spirit, which, combined, showed me that I was probably coming off as obnoxious to many people. However, many of those same people deny that “consistent Catholics” are even Christians, which is quite obnoxious and false! I used to deny that most Catholics are Christians too though. I was *extremely* obnoxious in my anti-Catholic attitudes and speech, but I was very sincere in my beliefs, based on how the Bible had been taught to me by my pastors, and based on my own Biblical interpretations, which were often very *influenced* by what I had been taught.

    Anyway, I’m rambling again, so I will end here. I hope that you won’t stop posting (on FB and here) about your new discoveries in the Church, and I hope that I didn’t discourage you in any way. That was/is never my intention. God bless you, Susan. I will keep praying for you (and for your family). I will also pray for your old Protestant friends, that God may soften their hearts toward the truth of the Catholic Church, lead them to full communion and unity with the Church and, in the process, heal your friendships with them. (I will also pray that He does the latter, even if your friends don’t ever become Catholic in this life.)

  7. P.S. Susan, I believe that “The Seventh Seal” was made while Ingmar Bergman still retained at least some of his childhood Lutheran faith. Within a few years though, he had lost that faith, and his films reflected that change. (His “Spider Trilogy” of films from 1960-1963 show the progression of his loss of faith.) When I was an angst-ridden, non-Christian young man, Bergman was my artistic hero.

    As a Catholic, I still think that many of his “post-Christian faith” films are very artistically powerful, but they should be watched, if at all, with prayer and *very* careful discernment. I would advise research, from good Catholic sources, if possible, before watching any of his works after “The Seventh Seal.”

  8. Hi Chris,

    It is good that I be more mindful of how I am coming across. Thanks for your prayers, compassion and advice. You are a very kind man.

    I will continue to pray for unity and do what I can to be an instrument.

    You got great artistic taste, my friend.

    God Bless,
    Susan

  9. Susan,

    You’re very welcome, sister. Thank you for your kind words.

    One more Bergman detail: I incorrectly remembered the informal “name” of the trilogy of his films on faith that I mentioned above. They are not known as the “Spider Trilogy,” but rather, the “Faith Trilogy.” They are an artistic examination of faith and doubt, and, sadly, they end up showing the progression of Bergman’s own loss of faith. His father was a Lutheran minister, and, from what I have heard, father and son had a difficult relationship. Ingmar greatly struggled with the question of the seeming “silence” of God in the face of suffering. I can’t help but think that he would have been helped by an intellectual knowledge of, and an experiential and emotional engagement with, Catholic theology on redemptive suffering.

    I do believe that Catholic/Protestant enrichment can and should go both ways though. In my view, Catholics can learn, positively, from the more orthodox among our separated Protestant brothers and sisters (those who do take the Bible to be God’s written, infallible word to humanity, and who earnestly care about personal evangelism of non-Christians).

    There is so much Spirit-driven fire, enthusiasm, and fearlessness among many Protestant communities, some of which I have personally experienced. When lay Protestants are going to non-Christian countries, at the risk of their very lives, to share Jesus Christ with souls who need to hear about Him, that is obviously a good thing. Even when some of the theology contains serious errors, at least non-Christians are being introduced to Christ and His sacrifice on the Cross. I would love to see more of that healthy missionary spirit to non-Christians among lay Catholics. I do see some of it, but I would love to see much more. Lay Catholics can learn from serious lay Protestants in that area– and, I think, Catholic clergy could also be inspired to help in building and stoking more of a missionary enthusiasm in their parishioners.

Leave Comment

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

Subscribe without commenting